Posts Tagged ‘party’

URBANIZATION OF THE MOFUSSIL GIRL – Story of a Modern Girl

August 5, 2011

URBANIZATION OF THE MOFUSSIL GIRL – Story of a Modern Girl.

Click the link above and read the story on my creative writing blog

Regards

Vikram Karve

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MARRIAGE COCKTAIL

December 3, 2009

 

MARRIAGE COCKTAIL

A Fiction Short Story

By

VIKRAM KARVE

The moment she saw us, tears welled up in her eyes – there is nothing more shameful for a young bride than to see her husband helplessly drunk, staggering disgracefully in other woman’s arms.

I felt sorry for her.

It is true – to be married to a drunkard is the crown of all misery.

I lay him on the sofa, took off his shoes, put a pillow under his head – she, his wife, did not move but remained frozen with a look of anxious trepidation on her face.

The man who was dead drunk, Arun, lay in stupor, oblivious to the world.

It was only as I began to leave that his wife, Sadhana, rushed into my arms and broke down.

“He will be okay,” I hugged her warmly and comforted her.

“I want to die! I want to die!” she began screaming hysterically, “Why is this happening to me?”

I sat her down, gave her a glass of cold water from the fridge, and said, “Sadhana, you just go to sleep now. Arun will be absolutely well in the morning. You don’t say anything to him – just ignore him – let him go to office. Then I will come here and we will talk.”

“You will come?” she pleaded.

“Yes, I will come in the morning and everything will be okay,” I calmed her.

I drove home late at night, lay alone in my lonely bed, commiserating, unable to sleep, wondering what to do.

I knew I had to do something, for I loved Arun dearly.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. It’s not what you’re thinking.

Tell me, can a woman love a man without ever having made love to him? Can a woman love a man without falling in love with him?

Of course she can – you can take my word for it – like I loved Arun.

Maybe it was our mutual chemistry or I don’t know what, but we certainly shared fantastic vibes, and we did love each other – Platonic, Ethereal, buddy-love – call it what you like.

Arun was my colleague and developing feelings of fondness for someone who you are in close proximity with for more than least ten hours every day is very natural – but he was much more than my “work spouse” – he was my soul mate.

Arun was my classmate from our student days in the States and I was not only his constant companion at work and socially, but also his closest confidante.

In such cases it is a thin line between friendship and having an affair, but we never crossed that line.

There were no secrets between us except the time he suddenly went to his hometown in the interiors of the mofussil and dutifully got married to the girl his parents had chosen for him.

Then he rang me up in the office, told me the news without much ado, and peremptorily commanded me to get his flat ready and come to the Mumbai Central Railway Station to receive him and his newly wedded wife.

I liked Arun’s wife Sadhana too.

She was a plump, graceful girl with a very pretty face and a sincere friendly smile which radiated a charming innocence.

She readily accepted me as a friend with honesty and openness, and generously understood my relationship with Arun without a trace of suspicion, envy or rancour.

I could not bear to see the poor innocent girl suffer like this.

Tomorrow I would talk to her, counsel her, and talk to Arun, and find a solution, make them more compatible, so that they could be happy, have a fun marriage.

But first let me tell you how it all started.

Arun loved his drink.

In fact, he loved his drink a bit too much.

I think he had an innate propensity for alcohol.

I noticed this and told him once or twice and then let it go as it was early days and maybe he was just enjoying himself, and I too didn’t quite mind sharing a spot of cheer in his affable company.

Maybe his parents knew this, his penchant for the bottle, and, maybe they thought that marriage was the panacea, and then they saw Sadhana, and said to themselves: “She is a very good girl, from a cultured family, excellent upbringing – I am sure she will bring improve him with her love and he will mend his ways after marriage. She’ll take care of him. Bring him around.”

It’s true; many people do seem to think the marriage is the easiest solution to many ills, like alcoholism, and everything will suddenly be happy ever after.

Sadhana’s marriage was a social triumph for her parents. She was an ordinary looking small town girl studying in college and it was almost a miracle, a stroke of good fortune, that the elders of the best known family in the town had come all the way their modest house, the girl’s parents, to ask for her hand in marriage to their son – a well-educated foreign returned top management executive. 

It was a grand wedding; but I have heard somewhere that, sometimes, a grand wedding results in a disastrous marriage.

At first Arun too was quite happy at his newly acquired simple naïve “provincial” wife who he thought would be unquestioningly obedient and acquiesce to his every whim and fancy.

Sadhana turned out exactly as he expected – a nurturing, caring, loving wife who did exactly what he wanted, pampered him to glory and unquestioningly submitted to all his demands, except one – she did not allow even a drop of alcohol in their house. In this she did not yield.

On her first day she cleaned out his well stocked bar, simply throwing all the bottles of expensive booze down the garbage chute.

Arun tried to reason with her, explained the ways of cosmopolitan culture, but Sadhana stuck to her guns, defiant.

And when all of us at the office suddenly landed up for impromptu dinner with the big boss presenting Arun a bottle of his favourite Single Malt, Sadhana promptly drained the precious whisky down the sink saying, “This daru is evil stuff,” and then served us a delicious spur-of-the-moment meal.

This was the last straw!

I noticed Arun seethe in silence feeling totally humiliated in front of his colleagues, his juniors, his friends, and me, but he did not say anything.

He reacted the next day – from that day onwards he started drinking with vengeance.

Arun started drinking at the club bar on his way home from work every night.

At first I would give him company, but soon I stopped accompanying him, as his drinking grew from bad to worse and his behaviour would often become nasty after a few drinks.

And now this – a call at midnight from the club secretary that my colleague and friend Arun had passed out stone drunk in the bar and would I please take him away as they had to close up.

Next morning, I left the office around ten thirty, telling Arun that I was not feeling well and went straight to his house.

Sadhana was waiting for me.

“Shall we have tea?” she asked.

“No. Let’s go to the club,” I hustled her out of the house and bundled her into my car overruling her protests, “We can be more discreet there,” I said hinting at the servants, but I had other plans.

It was early, the club was empty.

I chose a lonely inconspicuous table and ordered a Pina Colada Cocktail for myself and a Soft Drink for Sadhana.

“You’ve got to help him,” I said to Sadhana, coming straightaway to the point, not giving her a chance to start her sob story.

“Help him? Of course I want to help him. But how?”

“You adapt a bit, and he too will change and get better.”

“Adapt? What should I do?”

“Give him company.”

“What?”

“Be his friend. Spend your evenings with him.”

“But he goes to the club every evening.”

“Go to the club with him, sit with him, meet his friends, chat, talk to him, and make friends with him. He will feel good. In fact, I would suggest that you join him in a drink once in a while and have a little fun.”

“What?” Sadhana said flabbergasted, “You want me to drink liquor? In my home I have not even seen a drop of alcohol…”

“Relax, Sadhana, don’t be so dogmatic,” I took her hands in mine and calmed her down, “You are in a different society now. There is no harm in having a small cocktail, or some wine – now-a-days everyone does – even I do.”

“No. No…”

“Here, sip this,” I said giving her my glass of the lip-smacking sweet creamy Pina Colada.

“No. No. I can’t have this bitter strong stuff,” she protested.

“Try it, just once,” I insisted, almost forced her, and she took a tiny sip.

“It’s sweet and delicious isn’t it? Now if you have a little bit for Arun’s sake, he will start enjoying your company. Arun needs companionship. Tell me Sadhana, isn’t it better he has a drink with you than his hard drinking friends – that he rather spends his time in your company than with his good-for-nothing friends who are out to ruin him?”

Sadhana gave me a hesitant look, but did not say anything.

But I could sense her desperation deep within that would make her try out anything, any remedy, any cure.

I looked into her eyes and said, “The trick is to wean him away from hard drinking to social drinking. That’s what will happen once he starts enjoying your company. I am telling you again. Be his friend. Spend your evenings with him. Go to the club, sit with him, have a drink. Arun will feel good. He will start liking you. Now drinking is his priority – soon you will be his priority.”

“I don’t know…” Sadhana faltered.

“Trust me. Try it. It will make life easier for both of you. Stop trying to control him.  It will never work. I know Arun well. If you nag him you will drive him away from you. Confrontations, threats, arguments – with these he will only get worse. Come on, Sadhana, for Arun’s sake, for your sake, give it a try, I am sure he will respond positively.”

Sadhana looked anxiously at me, nervous, unsure, yet desperate.

I stood up walked to her and gave her a loving hug, “You two are newly married. I want you to be able to laugh, relax, have fun and enjoy life to its fullest!”

She hugged me in return.

“Promise me you’ll give it a try,” I said.

“I will try my best,” she promised.

It worked.

Arun sobered down.

And though he did enjoy his drinks – I never saw him drunk again.

The metamorphosis in Sadhana was truly fascinating.

The way she had transformed herself from a conservative Small Town Girl from the heart of the mofussil into a chic crème-de-la-crème socialite was remarkable, almost unbelievable. I would often see her sipping exotic colourful cocktails rubbing shoulders with the cream of society.

There was a time when Arun was ashamed of showing off his wife; now his heart swelled with pride and admiration as everyone noticed and praised her. They were the toast of society; the crowning glory was when they were crowned the “Made for Each Other Couple” at the New Year Eve Ball at the club.

Their marriage started rocking.

In fact their marriage rocked so much that soon comprehension dawned on me that there cannot be three persons in a marriage and I gracefully withdrew from their lives, changed my job, relocated and, yes, believe it or not, I got married to a nice young man and commenced a blissful married life of my own.

Of course, Arun and Sadhana attended my marriage, and at my wedding reception Sadhana seemed to be in a vivaciously celebratory mood, swinging brightly and dancing wildly, downing glass after glass of Champagne.

My new husband and I honeymooned on a luxury cruise liner, sailing to exotic locales – a wedding gift from Arun and Sadhana.

At first we kept in touch, but with the passage of time, as I settled comfortably in the cocoon of wedded bliss, the communication became less and less, and when we relocated abroad to the States we lost touch altogether.

It was three years before I visited Mumbai again, and the first thing I did after depositing my baggage in the hotel was to head towards Arun’s flat on Marine Drive.

It was early and I wanted to catch him home before he left for work.

Arun and Sadhana were not at home. “Saheb and Memsaheb have gone to the Ashram,” the servants said.

Ashram?” I said surprised, and asked whether they could give me his mobile number.

They did, and I rang up Arun on his cell phone, “Hey, Arun, what are you two doing in an Ashram – given up the material world and taken up the spiritual path?”

“No. No. It’s not that. This is not really the type of Ashram you are thinking; it’s a nature cure clinic,” Arun said.

“Nature Cure Clinic?”

“Not exactly, you can say it’s a de-addiction centre, a sort of rehab.”

“Rehab? You promised me Arun, you promised me that you’d cut down your drinking…for her sake…poor thing…I hate you Arun…”

“Stop it!” Arun interrupted angrily, “It’s not me. I’ve given up drinking. It’s Sadhana – she’s become an alcoholic.’

“What?” I said, stunned.

“Yes. My wife has become an alcoholic. Thanks to you and your stupid advice. And now will you please leave us alone?” Arun said angrily and disconnected.

I cannot begin to describe the emotion I felt at that moment, but one thing is sure: I have never ever felt so terribly guilty in my life, before or since, till this very day.

VIKRAM KARVE

 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

How I discovered the Meaning of Love

June 22, 2009

HOW I DISCOVERED THE MEANING OF LOVE

[Short Fiction – A Love Story]

by 

  VIKRAM KARVE  

  

 

 

            I do not know how the idea entered my brain in the first place; but once conceived, it haunted me with such urgency that a strange force took charge of me, impelling me to act. I tucked the packet under my arm and walked towards my destination, looking around furtively like someone with a guilty conscience. 

 

            The moment I saw her photograph I knew that I had to see her. A man’s first love fills an enduring place in his heart. Ten years. Ten long years. She had married money. And status. I was heartbroken. Yet I bore her no pique or rancor. Never will. How can I? I had truly loved her. I still love her. I will always love her. Till my dying day.

 

             I was desperately eager to impress her. To give her a gift would be too obvious. I did not know how much she had told her husband. About me! About us! 

 

            Her children should be the same age as mine. Maybe slightly older. They say the best route to a married woman’s heart is through her children. I looked at the packet under my arm. A gift. The deluxe set of children’s encyclopedias I had promised my son. And my daughter. Year after year. For the last three years. And did not buy. Because it was too expensive. And now I was going to present it to Anjali’s children. Just to impress her. Why? I do not know.

 

            As I rang the doorbell, I felt a tremor of anticipation. Suddenly I realized that I did not know whether Anjali would be happy to see me or pretend she didn’t recognize me. The door opened. Anjali looked ravishing. She gave me her sparkling smile and welcomed me with genuine happiness, “Sanjiv! After so many years! What a delightful surprise. How did you manage to find me?’

 

            We looked at each other. Anjali had fully blossomed and looked stunning. She looked so exquisite, so dazzling, that I cannot begin to describe the intense emotion I felt as I looked intently into her radiating eyes, totally mesmerized by her beauty.

 

            “Stop staring at me, “Anjali said, her large expressive eyes dancing mischievously.

 

            “You look so beautiful. And so young!”

 

            “But you look old. Even your beard has becoming gray.” Anjali paused, probably regretting what she had said.

 

            Then suddenly she held out her hand to me and said, “I am so happy to see you, Sanjiv. Come inside.”

 

            Her house was extravagant. Wealth and opulence showed everywhere. Anjali carried herself majestically with regal poise; her demeanor slick and confident. No wonder! To ‘belong’ had always been the driving force of her life. Money, status, social prestige, success – she had got everything she wanted. I couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy, and failure.

 

            “You like my house?” she asked. “Sit down. And don’t look so lost.”

 

            I sat down on a sofa and kept the gift wrapped packet on the side-table.

 

            Anjali sat down opposite. “How did you know I live here? We shifted to Mumbai only a month ago.”

 

            I took out the wallet from my pocket and gave it to her. “Your husband’s purse. I saw your photograph in it.”

 

            Anjali opened the purse and started to check the contents.

 

            “You don’t trust cops, do you?” I smiled.

 

            Anjali blushed. She kept the wallet on the table. She looked at me with frank admiration in her eyes. “IPS? That’s fantastic. I never thought you would do so well! What are you? Superintendent? Deputy Commissioner?”

 

            Now it was my turn to blush. “No,” I said sheepishly. “I am only a sub-inspector.”

 

            “Oh!” she said, trying to hide her disappointment. But I had read the language of her eyes. The nuance wasn’t lost on me. Suddenly she had changed.

 

            “Is Mr. Joshi at home?” I asked.

 

            “He is still at the office,” Anjali said.

 

            “Oh! I thought he would be home,” I said.

 

            “I’ll make you some tea,” she said and started to get up.

 

            “Please sit down, Anjali. Let’s talk.” I looked at my watch. “It’s already six-thirty. Let’s wait for Mr. Joshi. Maybe he’ll offer me a drink. And dinner.”

 

            “My husband comes home very late,” Anjali said. “After all, he is the Managing Director. There is so much work. And conferences. Important business meetings. He is the top boss – a very successful and extremely busy man.” She couldn’t have spelt it out more clearly. I got the message loud and clear.

 

             Anjali changed the topic and asked, “Where did you find the purse?”

 

              “It was deposited in the lost-and-found section last evening,” I lied.

 

             “It’s strange,” Anjali said. “He didn’t mention anything.”

 

            “He may not have noticed,” I said, tongue-in-cheek, “After all Mr. Joshi is a very busy man to notice such minor things like a missing purse.”

 

            “Yes,” she said, giving a distant look. Anjali opened the purse once more and examined his credit cards and driving license. At first she appeared confused. Then she gave me a cold hard look. But she didn’t say anything. There was a long period of silence. 

 

            Anjali kept staring at me. Looking directly into my eyes.  A distant look. Almost dismissive. I began to feel uneasy. Suddenly I remembered the gift wrapped packet I had brought and exclaimed enthusiastically, “Anjali, where are your children? I have got a gift for them. Just a small present for your kids!”            

 

            From the look on her face, I immediately sensed that I had said something terribly wrong. I saw tears well up in her eyes. All of a sudden, Anjali looked small, weak and vulnerable. I felt a sense of deep regret as comprehension dawned on me. I looked at her helplessly, pleading innocence, but it was of no use. Some day Anjali might understand my actions, but at that moment it was hopeless to try and explain. The hurt was deep, and I had to let it go in silence.

 

            We just sat there in silence, not knowing what to say. A deafening silence. A grotesque silence.

 

            It’s strange how moments you have rehearsed for end up with a different script.

 

            I could not bear it any longer. I quickly got up and started walking swiftly towards the door. Suddenly I realized that I had forgotten to pick up the packet – the gift. But I did not turn back. Why? I do not know.

 

            “Don’t go, Sanjiv. I want to talk to you,” Anjali spoke coldly.

 

            I stopped in my tracks. I could hear Anjali footsteps behind me. I turned around to face her. She seemed a bit composed.  

 

            “You lied to me, Sanjiv,” Anjali said. “I want to know where you found this wallet.”

 

             I did not know what to say. I tried to avoid her eyes.

 

            “Tell me,” Anjali pleaded.

 

            When in doubt, I speak the truth. “We raided one of those exclusive classy joints last night,” I stammered. “A posh call-girl racket……….” I could not continue. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

 

            “I know! Oh yes I know!” Anjali said mockingly. “That impotent creep! Trying to prove his virility to himself.” 

 

            With those few words, she had bared the secret of her marriage. I looked at her. Her manner was relaxed and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes. 

 

            I was nonplussed. Suddenly I blurted out, “Don’t worry Anjali. I have dropped the charges. I’ll hush it up.” 

 

            I still don’t know why I uttered those words, but on hearing them there was a visible metamorphosis in Anjali. Suddenly she became flaming mad. She looked so distraught and angry that I felt very frightened. Terrified that she would go berserk and attack me, slap me, or something, I instinctively stepped back. But Anjali suddenly turned and left the room. I waited, pole-axed, for a moment and after regaining my composure decided to leave and started to move towards the door.

 

            “Wait!” I heard her scream. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. 

 

            Anjali quickly walked towards me and thrust out her right hand. She held a bundle of hundred rupee notes. “So this is what you have come for, isn’t it? A bribe to hush up the case, isn’t it? Even from me! You unscrupulous dog, I didn’t expect you to fall so low. Here – take the money and get out. This is all I have at home. If you want more, you know where to find my husband; don’t you?”           

 

            “No, Anjali,” I recoiled. “Please don’t ………..”

 

            “Cheap!” Anjali spat out. There was contempt in her eyes. “Cheap riffraff! That’s what you always were, Sanjiv. Get out you filthy blackmailer.” She threw the bundle of notes at me. It hit my chest and fell on the ground, the money scattering near my feet.

 

            “I love you, Anjali,” I said, trying to sound sincere.

 

            “Love,” she exclaimed, her radiating eyes burning with anger. “So you have come to see how your barren old flame is flourishing, isn’t it?” She paused and said sarcastically, “So you are pleased aren’t you? Happy to see my success?”

 

            Her sly and sarcastic suggestion that I might be happy at her misfortune hurt me more than anything else. I turned around and walked out of the house. As I walked towards the gate something hit me on my back. I winced in pain. The three volumes of the expensive Children’s Encyclopedia were scattered on the ground, their silver paper gift wrapper torn. I knew that Anjali was standing in the door looking at me. But I did not look back at her. I gathered the books and walked away into the darkness.

 

            As I gradually came into consciousness from my drunken stupor, I realized that I was in my bed. Though sunlight filtered in through the open windows, everything looked blurred. Slowly things began to come into focus.
 
           My daughter was sitting beside me on the bed. She touched my arm with tenderness. There were tears in her eyes.
 
           My son stood aloof on the other side of the bed. There was fear in his eyes.
 
           My wife looked at me with loving pity and said, “The children want to thank you for the lovely gift. They are so happy!” She was holding the set of encyclopedias in her hands.

          I smiled and reached out to them. They held my hands and smiled back. 

           I looked at the pure unadulterated joy in their eyes. For the first time in my life I experienced a deep genuine true love for my wife and children. A love which I had never felt before. 
          
           Tears of joy welled up in my eyes. I had discovered love.

           Yes, I had discovered the true meaning of love.

  

 VIKRAM KARVE 

 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

THE WALLFLOWER – A Romance

June 13, 2009

HOW I DISCOVERED MY TRUE LOVE

Short Fiction – A Romantic Love Story

by

VIKRAM KARVE

“I don’t want to marry Manisha,” I told my mother.

My mother looked as if she had been pole-axed. Suddenly there was a metamorphosis in her expression – a distant look across my shoulder followed by a smile of forced geniality.

“Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.

I turned around quickly and saw Manisha entering the wicket-gate and walking towards us.

She wished my mother and smiled at me. “I want to come and see you off at the airport.”

“Why bother? I’ll go on my own,” I said. “The flights are quite unpredictable. They never leave on time. And how will you come back all the way?”

“You two talk here in the garden,” my mother said. “I’ll go inside and pack your things.”

“I am sorry about last night,” Manisha said, with genuine regret in her voice.

“It’s okay.” I looked at Manisha. Plump and full-faced, with small brown eyes and dusky complexion, hair drawn back into a conventional knot – there was only one adjective to describe Manisha – ‘prosaic’; yes, she looked prosaic – so commonplace, unexciting and pedestrian.

“I’ll go inside and help your mother,” Manisha said, and went inside.

‘Last night’ was the fiasco at the disco. Manisha and I – An unmitigated disaster!

“Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.

“No,” Manisha was firm.

“Come on. I’ll teach you,” I pleaded. “Everyone is on the floor.”

But Manisha did not budge. So we just sat there watching. Everybody was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Many of my friends and colleagues were on the floor, with their wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Among them Sanjiv and Swati.

“Who is this wallflower you’ve brought with you?” taunted Sanjiv, during a break in the music.

“My fiancée, Manisha,” I answered, trying to keep cool.

“Your fiancée? How come you’ve hooked on to such a Vern?” Swati mocked. “Come on Vijay,” she said derisively, coming close and looking directly into my eyes. “You are an Executive now, not a clerk. Don’t live in your past. Find someone better. She doesn’t belong here.”

If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have been easier to endure than these words. It always rankled; the fact that I had come up the hard way, promoted from the ranks.

“This is too much” I said angrily to Sanjiv.

“Cool down, Vijay,” Sanjiv said putting his hand on my shoulder. “You know Swati doesn’t mean it.”

But I knew that Swati had meant every word she uttered.

“Let’s go,” I told Manisha. “I’ve had enough.”

When we were driving home, Manisha asked innocently, “What’s a Vern?

“Vernacular!” I answered. And at that moment there was a burst of firecrackers and rockets lit up the sky to usher in the New Year.

That night I could not sleep. I thought of my future, trying to see both halves of my future life, my career and my marriage, side by side. I realized that my career was more important to me than anything else. I had to succeed at any cost. And a key ingredient in the recipe for success was a ‘socially valuable’ wife. It mattered. It was the truth. The blunt truth – whether you liked it or not! Swati was right. Manisha just didn’t belong to that status and class of society of which I was now a part. I had crossed the class barrier; but Manisha had remained where she was. And she would remain there, unwilling and unable to change.

In marriage one has to be rational. Manisha would be an encumbrance, maybe even an embarrassment. It was a mistake – my getting engaged to her. She was the girl next door, we had grown up together and everyone assumed we would be married one day. And our parents got us engaged. At that point of time I didn’t think much of it. It was only now, that my eyes had opened; I realized the enormity of the situation. I was an upwardly mobile executive now, not a mere clerk, and the equations had changed. What I needed was someone like Swati. Smart, chic and savvy. Convent educated, well groomed and accustomed to the prevalent lifestyle, a perfect hostess, an asset to my career. And most importantly she was from a well-connected family. I tired to imagine what life would have been like had I married Swati.

Sanjiv was so lucky. He was already going places. After all Swati was the daughter of the senior VP.

Suddenly I returned to the present. I could bear my mother calling me. I went inside. Manisha was helping her pack my bags, unaware of what was going on in my mind. I felt a sense of deep guilt, but then it was question of my life.

“What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked after Manisha had left.

“Why were so rude to Manisha, so distant? She loves you so much!”

“I don’t love her,” I said.

“What?” my mother asked surprised, “Is there some else?”

“No,” I said.

“I don’t understand you.”

“Manisha is not compatible anymore. She just doesn’t fit in.”

I could see that my mother was angry. Outwardly she remained calm and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.

“Who do you think you are?” she said icily, trying to control herself. “You know Manisha from childhood, isn’t it? For the last two years you have been engaged and moving around together. And suddenly you say Manisha is not compatible?” My mother paused for a moment, and then taking my hand asked me softly, “What happened last night?”

I told her. Then we argued for over two hours and till the end I stuck to my guns. Finally my mother said, “This is going to be difficult. And relations between our families are going to be permanently strained. Think about Manisha. It will be so difficult for her to get married after the stigma of a broken engagement. Forget about last night. It’s just a small incident. Think about it again. Manisha is the ideal wife, so suitable for you.”

But I had made up my mind, so I told my mother, “If you want I’ll go and talk to her father right now and break off the engagement.”

“No,” my mother snapped. “Let your father come home. He will decide what to do.”

The doorbell rang. I opened the door. Standing outside along with my father were Manisha and her parents.

“I have fixed up your wedding with Manisha Patwardhan on the 30th of May of this year,” my father thundered peremptorily in his usual impetuous style.

“Congratulations,” echoed Manisha’s parents, Mr. and Mr. Patwardhan.

I was dumbstruck. Manisha was smiling coyly. My mother was signaling to me with her eyes not to say anything. She was probably happy at the fait accompli. I felt trapped. I excused myself and went up to my room. I locked the door. Someone knocked.

“Give me five minutes,” I said. “I’ll get ready and come down.”

“Come soon,” said Manisha from the other side of the door.

I took out my notepad and wrote a letter to Manisha:

Dear Manisha,

Forgive me, but I have discovered that I can’t marry you and I think that it is best for us to say goodbye.

Yours sincerely,

Vijay

I knew the words sounded insincere, but that was all I could write for my mind had bone blank and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible; just one sentence to terminate our long relationship. I knew I was being cruel but I just couldn’t help it.

I sealed the letter in a postal envelope, wrote Manisha’s name and address on it and put it in my bag. I looked at my watch. It was time to leave.

Everyone came to the airport to see me off. Sanjiv and Swati had come too. They were located at Pune and I was off on a promotion to Delhi.

“I’m really very sorry about last night,” Swati apologized to us. She took Manisha’s hand and said tenderly, “Manisha, please forgive me. You are truly an ideal couple – both made for each other.”

As I walked towards the boarding area Manisha’s father Mr. Patwardhan shouted to me jovially, “Hey, Vijay. Don’t forget to come on 30th of May. The wedding muhurat is exactly at 10.35 in the morning. Everything is fixed. I have already booked the best hall in town. If you don’t turn up I’ll lose my deposit!”

I nodded to him but in my mind’s eye I smiled to myself – the “joke” was going to be on him!  Then I waved everyone goodbye, went to the waiting hall, sat on a chair, opened my bag and took out the letter I had written to Manisha. I wish I had torn up the letter there and then, but some strange force stopped me. I put the envelope in my pocket and remembered my mother’s parting words: “Please Vijay. Marry Manisha. Don’t make everyone unhappy. Manisha is good girl. She’ll adjust. I’ll talk to her.”

During the flight I thought about it. I tried my utmost, but I just could not visualize Manisha as my wife in my new life any more. Till now I had done everything to make everybody happy. But what about me? It was my life after all. Time would heal wounds, abate the injury and dissipate the anger; but if I got trapped for life with Manisha, it would be an unmitigated sheer disaster.

I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of Delhi Airport. Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never.

I walked towards the red post box and stood in front of it, indecisive and confused. I took a deep breath, took out the envelope from my pocket and looked at it – the address, postage stamp – everything was okay.

I moved my hand to post the letter. A strange force stopped my hand in its tracks. I hesitated, and in my mind I tried to imagine the severe ramifications, the terrible consequences of what I was about to do.

At first Manisha would be delighted, even surprised, to see my handwriting on the letter. And then she would read it…! I dreaded to even think about the unimaginable hurt and distress she would feel… and then her parents… and mine…the sense of betrayal and insult…relationships built and nurtured for years would be strained, even broken, forever. And poor Manisha…everyone knew we were engaged…how tongues would wag…the stigma of broken engagement…the anguish of my betrayal of her love… she would be devastated… may even commit…

Suddenly my cell-phone rang interrupting my train of thoughts. ‘Must be Manisha monitoring me as usual,’ I thought getting irritated at her – Manisha’s suffocating familiarity and closeness seemed like manacles and I was glad I was getting away from her. I decided not to answer, but my mobile kept ringing persistently, so I looked at the display. It wasn’t Manisha, but an unknown new number.

“Hello,” I said into my cell-phone.

“Mr. Joshi?” a male voice spoke.

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here. Who is it, please?” I asked.

“Sir, we’ve come to receive you. Please come to the exit gate and look for the board with your name.”

“I’m coming,” I said and looked the letter addressed to Manisha in my hand.

No. Not now in a hurry. Providence was giving me signals to wait, reflect, and think it over, not to do something so irretrievable in such a hurry. So I put the envelope in my pocket and walked away from the post box towards the exit.

I settled down well in my new job and liked my place in Delhi. Every morning I would put the envelope in my pocket determined to post it in the post box outside my office on my way to work but something happened and I didn’t post the letter to Manisha. Meanwhile I rang up Manisha, and my mother, every evening, and made pretence that everything was okay. The stress and strain within me was steadily building up.

Every time I looked at the envelope I felt as if was holding a primed grenade in my hand. With every passing day, the 30th of May was approaching nearer and nearer. Time was running out, and I knew I would have to unburden myself of the bombshell pretty fast. So one day, during lunch break, I decided to post the fateful letter and get it over with once and for all.

As I was walking out someone from the reception called out to me, “Hey, Mr. Joshi, is Mr. Gokhale in his office?”

Gokhale was my boss, and he was out on tour, so I said, “No, he’s gone on tour. Anything I can do?”

“Sir, there’s a courier for him,” the receptionist said.

“I’ll take it and give it to him when he comes,” I said, signed the voucher and took the envelope from the courier.

The moment I looked at the envelope an electric tremor of trepidation quivered through me like a thunderbolt.

I cannot begin to describe the bewildered astonishment and shocking consternation I felt when I saw Manisha’s distinctive handwriting on the envelope. Beautiful large flowing feminine writing with her trademark star-shaped ‘t’ crossing, the huge circle dotting the ‘i’… there was no doubt about it. And of course her favorite turquoise blue ink. There was no doubt about it but I turned the envelope around hoping I was wrong, but I was right – the letter to my boss Mr. Gokhale was indeed from Manisha; she had written her name and address on the reverse, as bold as brass!

My pulse raced, my insides quivered, my brain resonated and I trembled with feverish anxiety. At first impulse I wanted to tear open the envelope and see what was inside, but I controlled myself, tried to mask my inner emotions, put on a fake smile of geniality for everyone around, gently put the letter in my pocket and began retracing my steps back to my office.

I discreetly felt the two envelopes in my suit pocket – one, my unposted letter to Manisha; and the other, much fatter, Manisha’s unopened letter to my boss Mr. Avinash Gokhale.

I locked myself in my office, sat down, calmed myself with a glass of water, took out the two envelopes and put them on the table in front of me. My unposted letter to Manisha would now have to wait – I thanked my stars that some mysterious hidden restraining force had stopped me from posting it every time I tried to.

I picked up Manisha’s envelope addressed to Avinash Gokhale. It was sheer serendipity that I happened to be at the reception when the courier arrived – otherwise I would have never known.

I looked at the envelope. The whole thing was incredulous. Why on earth should Manisha write to Avinash Gokhale? What was the connection? How did she know Gokhale? What had she written to him?

Had my simpleton mother blurted out something to her – told Manisha or her parents what I’d said – that I didn’t want to marry her? My mind went haywire with strange thoughts. Revenge! Yes, revenge. Stung by my betrayal, Manisha had somehow found out the name of my boss, from Sanjiv or Swati most probably, and was out to ruin my career – wreck vengeance on me for ditching her. Written to Avinash Gokhale what a jerk I was. These things mattered in my company. My heart skipped a beat. I felt a tremor of trepidation. I suddenly realized that I had to swiftly interrupt this pernicious line of thinking and insidious train of thoughts.

No, No! It was just not possible. No chance.  Manisha was not the vindictive type. She would never do such a thing. Especially to me. She always loved me so much. And I was sure my mother would not have been so indiscreet and would have kept our conversation to herself.

But then anything is possible. I couldn’t take any chances. Dying with curiosity I desperately felt like tearing open the envelope and reading the letter. I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. It was simple. I would open the letter in the privacy of my house. Steam-open the envelope very carefully so no one would even discern. Then I would read it and accordingly decide the further course of action.

I wondered why Manisha had sent this letter so indiscreetly to the office address with her name and address written so blatantly. Was it on purpose? She could have spoken privately to Gokhale, or even e-mailed him. Why this bold as brass missive? Was it on purpose?  She wanted me to know…No. No. It was too bizarre!

I had an impulse to call up Manisha then and there and get it over with once and for all, but I stopped myself. I had to know first what she had written in that letter before I could do anything.

The suspense was killing. I felt restless and uneasy. When I feel tense I go for a long walk. That’s what I did. I went for a long walk around my entire office, each department, making pretence of MBWA [Management By Walking Around]. When I returned to my office it was four, still an hour to go. The next hour was the longest hour of my life.

The moment it was five, I rushed out of my office. The moment I opened the door I ran bang into the receptionist. “Mr. Joshi, Sir. That letter for Mr. Gokhale – you want me to give it to his PA?”

“No. No. I’ll give to him personally,” I said feeling the envelope in my coat pocket.

She gave me a curious questioning look so I hastily said, “Don’t worry, I’ve locked it carefully in my drawer,” and hurriedly walked away.

I rushed home to my apartment. I put some water in a pot to boil and then carefully held the envelope over it. I had to steam it open very meticulously and delicately – no tell tale signs.

Soon I had Manisha letter in my hands.

Dear Avinashshe began.  Oh … great… Dear Avinash indeed!

Already on first name terms – Thank God for small mercies it wasn’t Darling AvinashSweetie-pie or something even more mushy!

Dear Avinash,

The suddenness with which you popped the question left me so dumbfounded that I am still recovering from the shock. Shock? Maybe that’s the wrong word, but the swiftness of your proposal, out of the blue, on our very first date – well I am a simple girl and it really left me dazed.

You called once. I didn’t answer. You didn’t call again. I really appreciate that. That was very gentlemanly of you.

You sent me an e-mail. Explaining your feelings. Apologizing for what you did at the spur of the moment. Said sorry for having hurt my feelings. Please don’t say sorry. You haven’t hurt my feelings at all. Maybe outwardly I didn’t show it, but in fact, inside, I felt so good, so happy, that a suave man like you found a simple ordinary looking girl like me so attractive.

Avinash, please try to understand. I also feel the same way about you. I can’t exactly describe the emotions I experienced when we were together. Is it love? I don’t know. It’s the first time it’s happened to me that I’ve  felt so attracted to someone. I really feel like being with you, forever, spending the rest of our lives together. Thanks for proposing to me, Avinash – I accept.

What I want to say now I don’t want to say over the phone, or e-mail, so I am writing this letter. I am writing this because I believe that there is no place for secrets between husband and wife. Please read it carefully and destroy it. For my sake. Please. Read what I have written, think about it carefully, and I’ll wait for your reply.

You know Vijay, don’t you? Vijay Joshi. Of course you do. He works with you in Delhi. You are his boss.

In fact, I came to Sanjiv and Swati’s party in Pune just to see what Vijay’s boss looked like. Of course, I’d also come to help out Swati, but I was more interested to know how Vijay is doing in his new job in Delhi and maybe say something good about him. But the thunderbolt struck and we ended saying sweet nothings to each other. I hope Swati didn’t notice, as she seemed the busy hostess most of the time, and I haven’t told her, or anyone, about our hush-hush dinner-date the next evening in that lovely romantic garden restaurant.

Now, let’s talk about Vijay. Vijay and me were neighbors ever since I remember. Our families are very very close, deeply bonded to each other. Vijay and I are the dearest of dearest childhood friends, inseparable buddies who grew up together. Vijay has always been my most intimate confidant. I have always told him everything. Except about you – about us. It’s the first time I have hidden something from Vijay. And I’m feeling so guilty about it.

Avinash, I really love Vijay. But not in that way. Vijay is my friend, yes; buddy, yes; even soul mate, yes; but I just can’t imagine Vijay as my lover. Like I can visualize you!

Now brace your heart, Avinash!

I am engaged to Vijay. And our wedding date has been fixed on the 30th of May. Everyone knows about it.

This was fixed long back by both our families. My marriage to Vijay – a foregone conclusion and implicit happy culmination of our friendship. I too was happy. Till I met you. Now it is different.

What do we do, Avinash?

I just can’t bear to tell Vijay myself. To him it will be a terrible betrayal, a stab in his back. I can’t break his heart. He will be devastated.

I don’t have the guts to tell my parents; or his, either. They will be shattered, the hurt very painful and relationships will be strained forever.

So what do we do, Avinash?

I have an idea. It may sound bizarre, but let’s give it a try. Why not make Vijay fall in love with someone else?

Avinash, why don’t you introduce Vijay to some nice girl out there? Someone smart and chic, like Swati. I think he likes girls like that – I’ve seen him stealing canny glances at Swati when he thought I wasn’t looking. Right now he is lonely, vulnerable, and I am sure you there are many lovely, mod, savvy, attractive women out there in Delhi who are also lonely and vulnerable. You’ve just got to match them and hope for the best.

Avinash, try to understand. I want Vijay to call off our engagement. I want him to “break” my heart. It will be better that way, isn’t it? For me, for you, and for all of us.

Avinash. Am I asking too much of you? You like the idea, or is it too weird? Or can you think of anything better?

I am waiting for your reply. Please send me e-mails only. Don’t ring up or write – we have to very careful of hidden ears and curious eyes.

And remember to destroy this letter right now.

Yours lovingly,

Manisha.

I read the letter once again, slowly, carefully, word by word, till the last line – And remember to destroy this letter right now”.

It was unbelievable – this bolt from the blue from Manisha. I laughed to myself. I thought I was smart, but it was Manisha who was playing the double game.

I put the letter on the table, closed my eyes, and tried to think clearly. It was crazy – a classy snob like Avinash Gokhale falling for a pedestrian Plain Jane like Manisha Patwardhan! Yes, Love is blind – Love is truly blind! Or, is it?

Instinctively I picked up my cell-phone and called Manisha.

“Hi, Vijay,” Manisha said, “what’s up?”

“Just thought of you, so called to say Hi,” I said.

“How’s life out there?”

“Good. I like Delhi. You’ll like it too – when you come here.”

“Come there?”

“You’re going to come here and stay with me in Delhi after we get married, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” Manisha said smoothly – so smoothly, so slickly, so effortlessly, so glibly, without even the slightest demur or trace of dither, that, for a moment I was struck dumb.

“Hey, Vijay, what happened?” Manisha asked.

“Nothing,” I answered, “everything okay out there?”

“Oh, yes, I’d gone to your place this morning – everyone is fine.”

“Your parents?”

“My Mum and Dad are fine. Everyone is okay – just waiting for you to come. When are you coming to Pune?”

“I don’t know. There’s lots of work.”

“Come on, Vijay. Don’t tell me you can’t come for a day or two, at least on a weekend. I’m sure there’s not that much work that the heavens will fall if you are not there.”

“It’s not that – my boss here is a funny guy.”

“Funny Guy?”

“A painful killjoy called Avinash Gokhale,” I said, and listened carefully, but I couldn’t even detect even the slightest gasp or tremor in her voice as Manisha continued talking smoothly and glibly as ever, “Never mind, Vijay, you just work hard,” and then she effortlessly changed the subject to the latest happenings in Pune and started off with mushy ‘sweet nothings’ about how much she missed me.

Listening to her, for a moment, I thought the letter in front of me was a forgery, but then I knew Manisha’s handwriting too well. I was too flabbergasted to continue the conversation so I quickly said bye and kept the cell-phone on the table.

I never imagined Manisha could be so secretive, so mendacious.

It was strange – how close one can be to a person and yet know nothing about her.

And Avinash Gokhale? I worked with him every day, spent hours together, yet knew nothing about him, except that he was brilliant workaholic and a recluse – a most boring and private person who always kept to himself, never mixed around, never socialized or attended parties, a pain in the neck who everyone avoided and the only thing he ever talked was about work.

Made for each other – two secretive loners – Manisha Patwardhan and Avinash Gokhale.

But why was I so bothered? Good Luck to them! My problem was being solved. I had to just quietly wait and watch, do nothing, till my boss found some nice smart chic girl for me. Can anyone be luckier? Life was going to be exciting!

I carefully put Manisha’s letter back into the envelope and resealed it meticulously with a glue-stick. No one could have suspected that it had been steamed open. Now all I had to do was to quietly put it in the mail folder of Avinash Gokhale before he reached office on Monday morning.

Suddenly, I was jolted out of my thoughts by the ring-tone of my cell-phone.

“Hello!” I said.

“Is that Mr. Joshi?” a sweet mellifluous feminine voice said.

“Yes. Vijay Joshi here,” I said.

“I’m Vibha speaking.”

“Vibha?” I asked surprised. I didn’t know any Vibha.

“Oh I’m sorry Mr. Joshi, we haven’t met. I’m Vibha Gokhale. Avinash Gokhale’s wife.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry Mrs. Gokhale. I didn’t know Mr. Gokhale had a wife,” I mumbled.

“Well, Well, Mr. Joshi! Of course your Mr. Gokhale is a much married man and has a Mrs. Gokhale and you are speaking to her right now,” she said playfully, and added, “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“No. No. Ma’am. It’s not that. I didn’t know he was married. He’s never told me anything about you.”

“Really? That’s curious,” she said, “Because he’s told me everything about you.”

“What? He’s told you everything about me?” I blurted in surprise.

“Oh, yes Mr. Joshi,” she said mischievously, “I know all about you. And what I don’t know, you can tell me yourself when we meet.”

“Meet?”

“At the airport.”

“Airport?” I asked, totally baffled.

“Yes, Mr. Joshi, Delhi Airport, I’m just about to board the direct flight from Singapore,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Singapore?”

“Yes, Singapore. I live and work here. You don’t know? Of course you don’t – he hasn’t even told you he’s married. Well, I was on my way to London for a conference, and, on the spur of the moment, thought I’ll stopover at Delhi and spend the weekend with Avinash.”

“How sad?” I stammered, “Gokhale Sir is on tour to Chennai till Monday.”

“Chennai? You’re totally clueless aren’t you – don’t even know where your boss is?”

I was at a loss for words, confused.

“He’s already left Chennai this morning. And right now your boss Avinash is in Pune.”

“Pune?” I exclaimed incredulously.

“Yes, Pune. I wanted him to finish off his work in Chennai and come back fast to Delhi today itself, so we could meet up, but he told me he was already in Pune as something very important and urgent suddenly came up and he wouldn’t be able to make it. So he asked me get in touch with you. He’ll be coming back to Delhi on Wednesday now.”

“Wednesday? Urgent work in Pune?” I uttered like a zombie.

“Don’t tell me he hasn’t told you!” she exclaimed in amazement.

Overwhelmed by the maze of confusion, my mind went numb, and I was struck dumb.

“Mr. Joshi, Mr. Joshi. Are you there? Please Mr. Joshi,” Vibha Gokhale said rapidly with hint of impatience, “I have to board now. It’s a six hour flight. Just find out the arrival details and make sure you are there on time. You don’t want your boss’s wife to be left high and dry, do you?”

“I’ll be there Ma’am,” I said, “but how will I recognize you?”

“Don’t worry. Just be there at the arrival lounge. I’ll recognize and find you,” she said and abruptly switched off.

I keep my cell-phone on the table beside the two letters [my unposted letter to Manisha and her shocking letter to my boss Avinash], close my eyes, and try to analyse the mystifying happenings of this most eventful day of my life.

First Manisha’s letter asking Avinash to set me up with some chic girl in Delhi so that I call off the marriage, instead of her, become the villain of the piece, take the rap from family and friends and look like a dirty jilting philandering rascal in everyone’s eyes, while Manisha looks the poor victimized wronged all-suffering sanctimonious goody-goody, besides saving her a guilt conscience.

And at the opportune moment our gallant knight in armour Mr. Avinash Gokhale rushes in to rescue the devastated inconsolable innocent damsel in distress and magnanimously proposes to marry her.

Only, this Mr. Avinash Gokhale is a dirtier rat one up on her. He’s married, and is obviously hiding this from Manisha, at least till now. And he’s not told his wife about Manisha either, or has he?

And what’s this sudden urgent work in Pune which no one in the office has a clue about? Devious cheat, making a jackass of everyone while romancing in Pune at company expense!

Suddenly I feel a premonition – that at this very moment they are together – at some secluded place, having a romantic dinner, or maybe…

I stop my train of thoughts and ring up Manisha. “Out of coverage area,” says the recorded voice. My worst fears are confirmed. Scheming scoundrels – both of them! And why the hell did Avinash give his wife my number, without even bothering to tell me?

In a flash, comprehension dawns on me. Avinash is setting me up with his own wife Vibha! In connivance with his wily lady-love Manisha. It’s truly disgusting! How low can anyone get?

“Okay friends,” I say to Avinash and Manisha in my mind’s eye, “you want to play a double game? I’m game. Let’s play!”

I reach the airport well in time and take up a strong tactical position where I can clearly observe the passengers coming out of the arrival gate without being easily seen myself.

I recognize her at once without ever having seen her. Stunningly attractive, a real beauty, smashing, sophisticated, elegant; truly chic – my type of woman – optimally designed, precisely engineered and finished to perfection. She looks so extraordinarily exquisite, so tantalizing, so sensuous, so temptingly inviting, that I cannot take my eyes off her. Suddenly she looks in my direction and realizes that I am feasting my eyes on her. At first she gives me stern look, then seeing the frank admiration in my eyes, she melts, her lovely, dark, expressive eyes begin to dance and she gives me a smile so captivating that I experience a delightful twinge in my heart.

“Excuse me,” someone is tapping my shoulder form behind. Exasperatingly I turn around, glare at the podgy pedestrian suburban unpretentious looking homely woman who has disturbed me and snap angrily, “Yes. What is it?”

“Mr. Vijay Joshi?” she says grinning like a Cheshire cat, “I am Vibha Gokhale. I told you I’ll recognize you, didn’t I?”

My Dear Reader, I have no words to describe my feelings at that moment. I’ll only say this. Deflated. Yes, deflated! I’d never felt so deflated before – or since!

Vibha Gokhale peeps past me at the object of my attention, arches her eyebrows, and says naughtily, “Aha, Mr. Vijay Joshi. So you thought that sexy dish over there is me, is it?”

I swivel round, then back, all confused, and stammer, “No, actually…”

“It’s okay. You’re not the first one to wonder how a handsome hulk like Avinash Gokhale married a Plain Jane like me,” she says, adjusting the hair pin in her bun.

“No, No…” I stammer in acute embarrassment.

“IIT,” she says.

“IIT?” I ask, confused.

“Avinash wooed me when we were classmates at IIT.”

I say nothing; try to conjure up a contrived smile of polite geniality.

“You know how ‘dry’ it used to be out there in IIT, isn’t it? The mirage! The mirage!,” she says as if it is some secret joke, “When you are starved, and thirsty, even a Plain Jane like me looks as if she is a Cleopatra…” she laughs with such frank innocence that I instantly take a liking to her.

Now I break out into a genuine friendly smile, amused in my mind’s eye about Avinash Gokhale’s penchant for Plain Janes.

“Hey, what are you thinking?” Vibha says, “Come, let’s collect my baggage and go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I say, remembering she is my boss’s wife.

“Hey, don’t ‘Ma’am’ me!” she commands, “My name is Vibha. And I’ll call you Vijay.”

Soon we sit in my car and I ask her, “Where to?”

“Where to? What do you mean ‘Where to’? We’re going to your place, of course! I’m staying with you, isn’t it?” she says with childlike naiveté.

Probably seeing my shocked expression on my face, she says, “You don’t want to take me home? I thought it would be okay with you if I stayed over! Or should I stay here, at the airport, or in some hotel? I don’t want to go all the way to Avinash’s empty flat in NOIDA…”

“No, No. Of course you’re most welcome to stay with me,” I say, “Only thing is that I’m a bachelor.”

“I know,” she says matter-of-factly.

“I stay alone…” I stammer.

“Come on, shy boy, drive on. I won’t eat you up,” she says vivaciously, and I begin driving towards my house nearby in Vasant Vihar.

We reach my apartment and I open the door. I look at the wall clock – it’s almost three in the morning. She looks around my small one room studio apartment (an erstwhile decked up Barsati) and says, “A comfy, cozy bachelor’s den – I like it!”

“If you want to sleep you can sleep on the bed…”

“Hey, I’m dying for a cup of coffee, then I’ll bathe, and then we’ll see – we’ve got the full day ahead of us,” she says, walking towards the kitchenette.

“No, No, please…”

“Come on, Vijay, trust me. I make a decent cup of coffee, and I too live all alone like a bachelor girl in Singapore. Just tell me where the things are.”

Together we make coffee.

We sit down and talk. She is easy to talk to and my words come tumbling out. I tell her everything about myself, well, almost everything!

“Any love life?” she asks with a naughty conspiratorial look in her laughing eyes, at once inviting and taunting.

“No,” I say, “And you?”

“I told you – Avinash, Avinash, Avinash! Thst’s all. And a long distance marriage, pining for him, hoping that absence makes our hearts go fonder!”

I remain silent, not knowing what to say.

“Vijay, I like you,” she suddenly says with undisguised affection in her eyes.

“Like me?” I say nonplussed.

“Yes. After a long time I’ve met someone with whom I can be myself.”

“Me too,” I say, and I genuinely mean it. I feel a soft tenderness for her, a warm feeling of elation, but I quickly check my thoughts and hastily say, “You’ll like to have a nice hot shower, won’t you?” for I believe that thoughts can transmit themselves if they are strong enough.

“I’ll love to,” she says, and I show her the bathroom.

She comes out, freshly bathed, wearing a slim nightie that is so revealing that she might as well have worn nothing, but she conveys such innocence that it is obvious that she has no inkling of this. She looks so pure, so pristine, so desirable, and I realize that she’s not that plain looking at all, in fact, she is quite appealing, sensuous in a natural sort of way.

By instinct, and almost against my will, my eyes linger, travel all over her body. The transformation in her is amazing. Now she looks so wonderful, so feminine, so tender, so alluring, and so new – a woman in full bloom.

“I’ve become a little plump sitting on my haunches all day,” she says candidly, without a trace of coyness, throwing away the towel wrapped around her head, letting her luxuriant hair fall on her shoulders. She looks so tantalizing that I feel a moment of alarm. Maybe we are unthinkingly beginning something dangerous…so I blurt out, “I’ll have a shower too,” and rush towards the bathroom.

I have a soothing hot shower, and when I come out of the bathroom in my dressing gown, I see Vibha reading Manisha’s ludicrous “love letter” to Avinash Gokhale.

Oh, my God! I curse myself. What a careless fool I have been to let those letters lie on the table.

As she reads, I stare at her, dumbstruck, not knowing what to do.

Suddenly she turns and looks at me in incredulous despair.

“I can’t believe this,” Vibha moans, “It’s horrible,” she sobs, “Everything’s collapsed like a pack of cards,” she cries, “I invested my life in two things – my marriage and my career –and look what I’ve got in return? My marriage is a sham and my job – the two things I banked on, both have jilted me, and all I am left with is myself.”

“Your career? Your job? What happened?”

“It’s terrible,” she says, “I’m going through a very bad patch. Last week I was demoted, my junior promoted over my head,” she pauses, wipes her nose, “And I this so-called conference at the Head Office in London – it’s all a masquerade. I have a feeling they are going to fire me, give me termination letter, have an exit interview, settle my dues and tell me to go home.”

I listen silently, say nothing.

“I’m feeling so down,” she weeps. “I thought I’ll stop over, talk things over with Avinash, find some solace in his arms, plan our future, and see what happens! He does this!” she sobs holding out the letter.

“Maybe you can talk to him, patch up…”

“Patch up…?” she scorns mockingly, “A relationship in which the seeds of distrust have been sown – such a relationship, I think it is better to sever it, break it, terminate it permanently, than try to patch it up, isn’t it?”

I move my hands, wanting to take her into my arms, console her, but hesitate, not knowing what to do.

“I’ll never forgive him for this, for betraying me so terribly when I needed him the most,” she screams, and then suddenly her flaming red eyes look at me with such furious distress that I think she has gone raving mad.

“Please…”I say.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks hoarsely, waving the letter. I see tears trickling down her cheeks. She covers her face with her hands, wildly shakes her head, disheveling her hair.

I want to comfort her. I touch her shoulder. She flashes her eyes at me through the tangled strands of her hair, and suddenly the blazing fury in her eyes collapses into incredulous despair.

“I loved him so much! Why did he do this to me, why did he do this…?” she sobs hysterically, wildly clutching my arms, totally breaking down, her knees giving way.

I grab her, hold her tight, and she slumps forward into my arms. Then she looks up into my eyes, yearning, thirsty, ravishing. And suddenly, naturally, instinctively, it happens. The most spontaneous, natural, beautiful and passionate experience of my life. Spur of the moment, unplanned, unforeseen frenzied love. Like a volcano.

It’s wonderful, lovely, exquisite. I feel good, cherished. But what about her? Vibha? Is it spontaneous love? An explosion of fiery pent up passion? Or is it an act of frenzy, rage, expiation?

I gradually come into consciousness, my eyes heavy, my body overwhelmed by the pleasurable sensation of lethargy in the aftermath of passion. Everything looks blurred and slowly Vibha’s face comes into focus.

“Vibha. I’m so…”

She gently puts her hand on my mouth and says, “It was lovely.” Then she lovingly ruffles my hair with her fingers. I close my eyes, snuggle up to her, and let her ruffle my hair. The emotion that comes to me is compassion for what we have done; never before have I felt such tenderness.

It’s almost noon by the time we are ready. We’ve still got most of the weekend ahead of us.

“What shall we do?” I ask Vibha, “Movie, shopping, sightseeing…whatever you want…”

“Let’s disappear,” Vibha says roguishly.

“Disappear?”

“Yes, Vijay, let’s just disappear, vanish into thin air, where no one will find us.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere, far away from this suffocating life,” she says, “Come Vijay, let’s head for the hills, breathe some new pure fresh air, cleanse the cobwebs, the demons from our minds.”

“Your flight? London?”

“I’ll cancel it.” She calls up, cancels her flight to London.

Then Vibha gives me her cell-phone, and says, “Switch it off and lock up this leash somewhere. Your mobile too. We don’t want to be tracked down, do we?”

“But…?”

“To hell with world – let them stew in suspense.”

I put the mobile phones in a drawer.

“What about these?” I point to the two letters lying on the table – My unposted letter to Manisha, in the envelope, and Manisha’a pathetic love letter to Avinash, tear-stained, crumpled.

Vibha opens my unposted letter to Manisha, reads it and just tears it up, shreds it to pieces.

“What…?” I shout, taken aback.

“This flotsam and jetsam; memories of betrayal – better get rid of it,” she says, shredding the other letter too. “No point carrying useless painful baggage of the past.”

“Come,” she says taking my hand, “Let’s get away from all this. Be free. We both need to breathe some fresh air.”

And so we disappear.

At sunset we sit together, all by ourselves on the precipice, relishing the breathtaking spectacle of the delightful dance of the panoply of colours on the awesome vista in front of us as the soothing orange sun plays hide-and-seek behind the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, and then disappearing below the horizon and lighting up sky with vanishing crimson rays, streaks slowly dissolving in the enveloping grayness of twilight.

I feel wonderful, my spirits uplifted, my head in the clouds after savoring this inspiring soul-elevating feast for the eyes, I turn towards Vibha, cup her face in my hands and drown myself deep into her eyes. I can sense her finger-tips caressing the nape of my neck. The debris of the past has disappeared and a fresh new life is about to begin. I know that I have discovered my true love, my enduring love.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009

Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

vikramkarve@sify.com

vikramkarve.sulekha.com

http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve

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